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Dispelling the myths of the work/life balance

The Women, Influence & Power in Law Conference allowed panelists and audience members to share their tough choices

People from all walks of life, from surgeons to airline pilots to lawyers, seek the elusive ideal known as work/life balance. Last month at the Women, Influence & Power in Law conference in Washington, D.C., panelists and audience members alike shared very candid, personal accounts of scenarios in which they had to make tough—sometimes excruciating—choices in their professional and personal lives.

As I listened to these women share their stories, something occurred to me. The hope of balancing work and life is not an option for those who lead the legal industry. And as a working mother myself, the idea that balance is a myth blew me away. How could it never have occurred to me that we cannot equally distribute our energies, time and talents to both concurrently? Instead, these women spoke unequivocally about the notion that we have one life—a whole life—filled with choices, and the decisions we make when we are transparent and honest can actually help us advance in our respective careers. Brilliant.

Work/life balance is not just an issue for women; it does not discriminate. Instead, perhaps, a more accurate term for “work/life balance” is “work/life choices,” asserts Suzanne Folsom, SVP, general counsel and chief compliance officer of ACADEMI. “I don’t believe there is work/life balance; I think you make choices. And they aren’t easy,” she says. “At the end of the day, can you go on to be GC of a successful company working 9 to 5? Balance is a complete myth.”

During her 15 years with the company, Ellen Koplow, executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary of TD Ameritrade, noticed that younger lawyers in her department were approaching her for guidance on their career trajectories. “As we grew, all of the sudden I had the younger lawyers coming up to me asking me ‘what is my career path?’” says Koplow. “After a while, I realized I needed to think a little broader. They are watching their peers; they have titles.”

These stories underscore the need for chief legal officers and general counsel not only to invest in relationships with their legal teams, but also to serve as active role models within their departments and firms. This professional development quandary, along with several other significant emerging forces and trends, compelled the editorial team at InsideCounsel to think more broadly, too.

Our commitment to the new and improved InsideCounsel is to offer you an “inside” look at the latest innovations, trends and strategies that can help you further succeed in your career. Of course, we wouldn’t have had a reason to do any of this without you, our esteemed readers. Next month, we explore what it takes to be a successful chief compliance officer and share inspirational stories of executive leadership.

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